I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and
Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. There are two indisputable facts that have
arisen in the public debate on same-sex marriage: (1) Australians have voted
overwhelmingly to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex
couples; and (2) Australians want to ensure that religious freedoms are
safeguarded. In my view, it's incumbent upon the parliament to reconcile both
with this legislation. And as the original bill does not provide a number of
specific religious safeguards in relation to the definition of marriage, these
amendments are necessary.
A Newspoll in August found that in response to the question:
'Do you think parliament should provide guarantees in law for freedom of
conscience, belief and religion if it legislates for same-sex marriage?'
sixty-two per cent of people said yes; 18 per cent said no; and 20 per cent
were uncommitted. So roughly the same proportion of people support religious
protections as support same-sex marriage. Clearly we have an equal obligation
to both groups to reflect their views, and this can be done. Many people voted
yes with the expectation that religious freedoms would be safeguarded. In my
own electorate of McPherson, for example, 60 per cent of people in the 2016
census actively identified as Christian with only 31 per cent saying they have
no religion. My electorate recorded a 65.5 per cent 'yes' vote, higher than the
national average. Clearly a great many people who are Christian or who are of
other faiths voted yes, and I believe many did so with the expectation that religious
freedoms would be safeguarded.
The Leader of the Opposition said in September:
I can give this guarantee to the
Australian people: I and Labor not support legislation which impinges upon
religious freedom in this country … What I promise Australians is that before
the legislation for marriage equality is completed or voted on in parliament,
we will make sure that concerns about religious freedom are met with and dealt
with and are treated with respect.
The amendments that we are
introducing today are about making sure those concerns are met and dealt with.
And the Leader of the Opposition needs to honour his word and vote in support
of these amendments. If he does not, I challenge the Leader of the Opposition
to explain how Labor has taken into consideration the 62 per cent of
Australians who want religious freedoms protected.
This bill before the House requires amendments so we can
specify religious protections in regard to the definition of marriage while at
the same time expanding it. There are a number of aspects identified by human
rights lawyers and constitutional lawyers that are absent and should be
included in this bill. These include: recognising both traditional marriages
and two-person marriages as valid marriages in Australian law under the
definition; protections for marriage celebrants with religious and
conscientious objections; recognising legitimate beliefs on this issue and
freedom of expression; an antidetriment shield provision protecting individuals
and organisations with a genuine traditional marriage conviction from being
subjected to unfavourable treatment by public authorities because they hold or
express or lawfully act on that conviction; freedom from being required to
express or associate with or endorse a statement or opinion about marriage
which is inconsistent with a person or organisation's genuine religious or
conscientious convictions about marriage. Protections for charities should
include: non-discrimination in government funding; protection of religious
bodies and schools; rights for parents to withdraw children from certain
classes if the content conflicts with their religious or conscientious beliefs.
As these amendments clearly demonstrate, we can specify
religious protections in regard to the definition of marriage while at the same
time expanding it. Amendments to protect religious freedom will not mean a
weakening of antidiscrimination laws. It's not about giving people of religion
a licence to discriminate. It's about acknowledging and allowing people to
maintain sincerely-held religious and conscientious personal views without them
being discriminated against for those views. This is the fundamental basis of
freedom of thought, religion and speech which we pride ourselves on as a Western
democracy. Beliefs in same-sex marriage and traditional marriage, while
oppositional in nature, should be able to exist side-by-side.
The Australian community is overwhelmingly loving, tolerant,
mature and respectful enough to know that we can accommodate a wide range of
views and ideas. We can agree to disagree and not see differences of opinion as
some sort of short-coming to be denied and subverted. We can legalise same-sex
marriage and at the same time protect the fundamental rights of those who, for religious
reasons, do not personally support it. It will not make any marriage less
legal. I commend the amendments to the House.